Thursday, May 30, 2013

Money and Motivation

One of the ways in which spending your twenties as a grad student in a humanities department warps your view of yourself and your world is with regard to self-value. Not just "I must be a shitty person and scholar because I don't get this 'body without organs' " deal, but the work we do for which we are not paid, and the work for which we get paid so very, very little.

In graduate school, I planned events, I entered data, I taught myself software programs, I compiled webpages, I proof-read, I managed other graduate students, I researched, I read, I wrote, and I taught.

And for few of these gigs was I paid, and then, it was not well. This translates well to academia, where service and research are the perqs that you earn by teaching. You are grateful to be able to have the time and space to voluntarily, on your own time, research, serve on committees, mentor students, etc.

But this mindset, I am finding, is counter to everything outside of academia. I do not think the importance and value of a job can be measured by its salary. I do not think that those who earn $30,000 must or should work less hard than those who earn four times that. So that's good. But this belief in dedicating all to a job -- and in editing and writing "on the side" of the "real" job -- is not always helpful to getting ahead. I ask myself, is my genuine wish to work longer hours than I am paid fair to me and my partner? Really, I should be compensated for all time worked, so am I being a sucker by gladly bringing work home with me? Or since I am young and trying to build a career, should I be grateful for everything and anything I can get?

What's the difference between an underpaid, part-time editor working harder than s/he's being paid for and a young engineer at a startup sleeping at the company HQ and dedicating him/herself to their launch date? Is it just money? compensation? prestige? Or are they both naive, in fact, and should be rallying with other workers to demand fair wages?

One of the consequences of our new economy seems to be both flexibility and instability. If we are all eminently replaceable, we each must always be working harder than we are being paid in order to be the most valuable person to the company, it seems to me. Maybe all of the American economy is just catching up to a trick that academia's been playing on its citizens for many decades longer.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Where I am today

I finished my dissertation at 10 AM on March 28th, 2013. I was so worn out by the end that I am not sure that finishing was either a relief or a moment for celebration. It was more of a "This? This is what I had to do? All those years of paralysis and confusion and all I had to do was this?"

I felt let down by myself and, to be perfectly honest, by my advisors. I'm very proud of three of my chapters and I am glad I finished the last one and the intro. But, I am disappointed that despite my grand, ambitious ideas for the shape of the dissertation, it ended up being 200 pages, intro + 4 single author chapters. What a yawn. I don't want to know how many errors were in the bibliography. I still feel like as much of an impostor as I did throughout the process, only now I have a degree I feel like I earned through sheer forbearance rather than skill or knowledge. I don't think I know more now than I did six months ago, I just finally put my thoughts on paper. I feel like I wandered blindly for so long and spent so long worrying about their responses that I wasted years. One of my committee members apparently did not know when the submission deadline was and gave me feedback to totally revise my intro three days after I had submitted the document. I don't blame him at all -- I hadn't given him much time in the end to respond.

One of the unconscious reasons behind procrastination, for me, is that by cutting down on the time given to my advisors, and limiting the time I had left, I knew that they couldn't ask me to do huge revisions. Even if that would have been better for the scholarship. There simply wouldn't be time, so we band-aided the poor diss and shuffled it off stage.

I decided to embargo my dissertation for the maximum time allowed, two years, partially because I am telling myself that I will publish better versions of my chapters, and partially because I am deeply ashamed that it isn't better. I had the chance to really study under my advisors, and I never took it because I was too afraid of their criticism and felt too stupid to engage them in real, deep conversations about poetry, literature, and theory. I never even read half the books I wanted to, and what is a sadder take away from eight years of graduate study of literature?

I hope to revise my intro over this summer, and maybe tack on that last conclusion I intended to write, and correct any glaring typos or bibliographic problems. I also would like to turn some of the lost material into articles -- the chapter on the state of the poetry-publishing industry in Ireland and my Heaney/Boland chapter that never materialized.

I want to apply for academic jobs this fall, even though I got nowhere last year. But my current editorial job is looking shaky -- the publisher is in some financial straits, and I'm not sure my direct boss is going to stick it out. I feel very nervous, and I need to find some work immediately in case everything goes pear-shaped, which is pretty hard to do when you are new-ish to both an area and an industry.  We'll see.